This year is the 35th anniversary of the first Chicago Bears training camp at UW–Platteville.
The National Football League legend who coached that first Bears team will be speaking at UW–Platteville June 1.
Mike Ditka, who coached the Bears to their Super Bowl XX win and played his way into the NFL Hall of Fame, will speak at a fundraiser for the UWP Newman Center in UWP’s Ullsvik Hall. Doors will open at 4 p.m., with the dinner and program from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
Admission to “An Evening with Mike Ditka” will be free. Seating is limited; to RSVP go to www.pioneercatholic.org or call (608) 383-5574.
The program is to raise funds for the Newman Center, located at St. Augustine University Parish, whose growing student programs are taxing the parish’s building.
“We’re growing; we’re seeing students react to things we’re doing,” said Blake Hechimovich, the Newman Center’s development director. “It’s kind of a celebration. And in a really unique way Mike Ditka is perfect for this. And his response to us is whatever you need, I’ll be there. He has a particular place in our heart for the Newman Center.”
Ditka — known as “Iron Mike” or “Da Coach” in his most prominent days — coached the Bears from 1982, two years before the Bears moved their training camp from Lake Forest, Ill., to Platteville, to 1992. In those 11 seasons the Bears went 106–62, made the playoffs seven times, won six division titles, finished with the conference’s best record three times, and, in 1985, finished 15–1 and dominated the NFL on the way to the Super Bowl XX win.
During UWP training camps Ditka attended Mass at St. Augustine’s every morning. Ditka was also legendary for substantial anonymous contributions to various Platteville causes.
Ditka might not recognize the St. Augustine’s block upon his return. Houses have been replaced by Newman Heights, which opened last fall and, Hechimovich said, is “on track to be 100 percent [occupied] for next [school] year.”
The Newman Center’s ministry emphasizes chastity, sobriety and excellence.
“This is what Fr. John [Del Priore] preaches on,” said Hechimovich of St. Augustine’s parochial administrator. “Giving students what they need to navigate the culture in a moral way.”
The Newman Center now has eight campus ministers “to engage people where they’re at” in their faith lives, said Hechimovich. “They’re working on creating intentional disciples.”
Newman Heights was the first of two parts of the Newman Center’s plans. The second is to replace the St. Augustine building with a chapel and student center.
Though the dinner is free, the Newman Center will be asking for donations during the event, in part because “we don’t have a donor base of parishioners,” said Hechimovich. “We wanted to include Ditka because he spent a lot of time here and at this parish. He worshipped here, and he brought players here. He’s happy to do what he can for us, and he sees value in this place.”
Before his coaching days, Ditka was considered one of the best tight ends in the history of the NFL. He set a Bears rookie record by scoring 12 touchdowns, earning him the NFL Rookie of the Year Award. He was on the 1963 NFL champion Bears as well as the Super Bowl V and Super Bowl VI-winning Dallas Cowboys. He was a unanimous All-America selection his senior year at the University of Pittsburgh.
Ditka is one of only two people to have won NFL titles as a player (the 1963 Bears), an assistant coach (the 1977 Dallas Cowboys) and head coach. Ditka is also one of only four people in NFL history to have played on a championship team and then coached that team to a championship.